Seven of us participated in the GORUCK Custom Tough 2621 (GrowRuck09) in Toledo Ohio on April 28-29, 2018. Below are After Action Reports (AARs) – more gear and physical/mental state focused – which may be helpful to you in future events. The actual Backblast AAR is coming soon. It will be epic.
First, I honestly don’t know that I would have finished this without the 6 other men who went with me to this event. I knew others up there, but having a friend or two or 6 with you is, in my opinion, vital. Here are my notes in bullet format:
- If anyone tells you 2-4 pounds doesn’t make a difference, punch them in the face. My weight plate was almost 2 pounds over. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Weight plus distance equals fatigue (I learned this in Grow School; thanks Dredd #harambe). If you’re given a standard, meet the standard. Anything more is not necessary and, in the words of Mad Cow’s M, STUPID. Also, if you think, “I’ll bring this just in case,” DON’T. I overthought packing my ruck, brought too much food and too much gear. The extra 2 pounds it added was a mistake. Also, I had to run .25 miles with my ruck to recover the team weights and then .25 miles back. I didn’t realize that the weight I grabbed was 4 pounds heavier than the other two, which were carried by two other team members (both of whom are about 220, solid muscle, experienced GRTs). I held my own keeping up with them, but that 34 pound oddly shaped weight, plus my 45+ pound ruck at 2 am was no bueno. Super no bueno. Every pound matters.
- Wool is king. Most of our clothes now are made out of polyester and branded to say they dry quickly and wick away moisture. Maybe true, but wool has been around for thousands of years, and it is the best overall fabric for an event like this. I wore a merino Smartwool 150 long sleeve for much of the event (Thanks Winne for this tip). It was a big key to me regulating my temperature and staying warm and dry. I wore it over a t-shirt and later under a waterproof windbreaker (Mountain Hardware breathable pull over). It got wet when we crawled through a large creek discharge pipe that ended in a lake. It dried quickly. You don’t need to buy an expensive wool shirt; find a long sleeve thin merino wool sweater at the Gap or Old Navy. Same thing. You’ll be glad you did.
- A waterproof jacket is a life saver (not exaggerating) at 31*. Yep, that was the low. It was also windy (5-15 mph). That made a variable wind chill of 27* to 15*. Woof. While waterproof isn’t necessary, if you have one that breathes, bring it if it’s going to be cold. If it doesn’t breathe, get one that does and bring it. The problem with some older waterproof jackets is that your heat and sweat just stay inside and that can really hurt you when you stop because your core will just get cold. This is no bueno. This over the wool shirt/t-shirt, kept me warm enough, but didn’t make me too hot. Also, breathable waterproof means you don’t have to carry more gear (it’s a two in one). See Bullet 1. Cold is good; freezing is not, which is what happens if you get too hot and stop. But yes you read that right. Cold is good.
- Positive talk or don’t talk at all. I’m a big believer in positive talk in tough situations. I try to be positive and encouraging at all of our workouts. If I don’t have anything positive to say, I’ll still high five, slap your back or shoulder (or butt) or fist bump you. This holds doubly true for this type of event. When you’re tired, it’s easy to snap. So, keep your talk positive. If you say anything negative, it will hurt the team and your psyche. Even if you want to rip someone, it’s better not to. Just walk away or even better find a way to help them get positive. If you have nothing to say, that’s great. But a high five, fist bump or slap, in my opinion, go a long way.
- Ask guys how they’re doing. At about 1 am I was thinking about myself, but by 1:30 when the big logs came out, I realized my own comfort wasn’t as important as the other guys because without them I’d be royally screwed. So, I would ask guys, quietly, if they were ok. The Cadre encouraged us to talk like this, as well. Be empathetic, or at least fake it because if your buddy isn’t ok, you’re screwed. And make friends. Ask guys their names, if they have kids, why they’re out there. Help them stay positive by helping them focus on what matters to them.
- When you’re in an evolution or movement, do not think I can’t wait for this to end. A couple of times during an evolution (an exercise or PT event that you rotated through by Cadre) or movement (moving heavy stuff from one spot to another), I thought, “I can’t wait for this to be over”. This is not a good idea. You must stay focused in the moment. First, you will be told stuff you need to remember. If you step out of the moment, you risk not remembering that information. Also, if you’re not present, you can hurt yourself or others. But I found that each evolution/movement after the next was harder/more brutal than what I was immediately doing. It truly is a case of be careful what you wish for.
- Elephant walking is the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.
- Find a cause if you do one of these. We did a lot of good for Hope Scarves. Knowing Jaime’s story helped me get through this thing. I originally went into this for myself; to test my limits. That was fine until about 2 am. At that point, I needed something bigger than me to help me get to the finish.
- Have Star Child come. Everyone did great. Seriously, I heard Louisville Pax names more than I heard any others. And we represented in two of the three platoons. I think I held my own; no one said I didn’t… yet. But the HIM that was the MVP, in my opinion, was Star Child. He had a shit eating grin on his face the whole time (editor’s note: he may have actually eaten goose shit). He made jokes. He carried weight. He listened. He was my buddy when no one else was. He was everyone else’s buddy. He drove us there and mostly back. He gave without asking. While he may not be available every time, you should try to get him.
- You can lead by following. I only led a Fire Squad during the event. So I was in the rank the majority of the time. This forced me to use my skill/strengths (for what they were worth) in ways that followed the leader’s direction. It also allowed me to observe the strength of others to fall in line to support them.
- A comparison so you know how I feel. For anyone who’s run a marathon, combine the pain/fatigue in your legs and lower back with the extreme fatigue of no sleep for 26+ hours (keep in mind we started at 6 pm, but were awake – despite a few hours of rest – from 6 am to 6 pm), then add 45 pounds carried at all times, sometimes up to 100 pounds more (and at one point 220 pounds; the weight of the buddy I carried about .5 miles around a lake) wet, cold pants, shoes and socks, a light coating of goose poop and mud and the dread of not know what was happening about to happen or if you could finish an immediate task at hand. That’s it. You feel like complete and total shit. All the time.
- Make lots of jokes. If Richard Pryor and George Carlin had been with us, they may have turned red with embarrassment. I’ve never been with wittier, sharper people than the six I traveled with. Heap on them a group of likewise funny, gassy dudes and you’ve got yourself a fun stew. Don’t be afraid to say stuff. The ice is thick sometimes with self-importance. Make jokes; you paid for this; have fun. See the Star Child point.
- Being a casualty sucks. First, you can’t help which makes you feel bad. Second, it’s physically hard. I was three Man carried for about 3/4 of a mile. Imagine doing abyss planks with your arms extended for 25 minutes. I can’t say enough about the strength of the guys that carried me, especially Van Damm who’s had a coronary (and who has a brutally wicked sense of humor). Don’t be a casualty.
- If you have to shower at a campsite, make sure your towel is nearby. Otherwise, make sure you have a real friend with you. Because shouting, “Hello friend?” in a creepy higher than normal sweet voice to the LARPer who comes in to take a whiz followed by, “could you grab my towel from the end stall? I promise there’s no one in there” won’t get you your towel, or a friend. Real friends, though, do things.
Zartan AAR for GrowRuck 2621
These events are aptly named. They are indeed tough. As a matter of fact they are really tough. While the event itself was a great experience, it was the group of men I got to share it with that really set this apart from other challenges I have faced.
The Road Trip
Aside from the pending doom we were all feeling, this RV road trip was one for the record books. The 6 HIMs I was lucky enough to share this adventure with made this trip a memory I will never forgot. The details of the GrowRuck may fade over time but the bonds that were strengthened this weekend will be lasting. Far too many inappropriate jokes to mention and I am confident that all of us had tears streaming down our cheeks from laughing so hard. I will not dive into all the shenanigans that transpired but I will say this: With F3 and GoRuck and all the other things that brought us together we are truly blessed to have the opportunity to forge new friendships with such great men.
Imagine 100+ PAX circled up for COP. Then think back to Q-School when DH gave us vague instructions on a WO to prove a point about effectively communicating your instructions. Pretty much that’s what the next 60 minutes looked like. It is really hard to control 100+ men with one leader. A lesson that the cadre would later elaborate on and establish a method to disseminate instructions across a large group. Nothing special from the beatdown boys. Shit we do every day of the week. But less organized than our Qs.
GrowRuck 2621 Bulleted snap shot
- What the fuck are we doing?
- Brokeup into platoons (30ish men) and then further into squads (10ish men)
- Introduction and admin from cadre
- Taught to form up and file in ranks like the military. Drill Drill Drill (didn’t enjoy but served a purpose)
- What the fuck are we doing?
- 3 platoons broke off for different movements with each cadre.
- One Cadre taught us to move as a team whilst having us play soldier and do a shit ton of modified burpees. (this was actually pretty fun compared to the rest of the night) It served a purpose as well reaching us to communicate non-verbally and trust each other.
- Another Cadre killed us. Hardest thing I have ever done. Elephant walk with 30+ men across all kinds of terrain ( steep hills, slippery stone steps, over fences and through wooded trails) for easily 30-45minutes. We could never let go of the persons hand in front or behind us. Oh, and we got to do an over under race inbetween that is only funny now because of Cis Squads method of accelerating a motionless man. Bahahahahha Finished us off with a climb through a drainage tunnel with rushing poop water that ended in a lake/pond. FYI- take off your gloves if ever asked to do this. Game Changer. Also don’t fall head first into unknown depth off water with your ruck on in 30ish degree temps.
- Next Cadre schooled us on protection and how to safely move large objects (giant F’n logs) and how to safely static jump out of an airplane we built. Stressing the whole time that we would succeed or fail as a team.
- What the fuck are we doing?
- Think there was some beat downs handed out by a Cadre at this point with up down type stuff with rucks where we were never good enough so we just kept doing it. Flutters with rucks over heads, over head ruck holds and scrambling to get rucks back on and in formation over and over again.
- Then we were given a mission to carry Satan’s Cock 2 (biggest, meanest log that there ever was), a concrete filled giant ammo case (80-110lbs), a water jug (50-60 lbs), a team weight (37lbs), 2 8ft poles, a canvas bag of gear, a shovel flag(our platoon had OG BO flag!) and ruck 2+ miles on one of the hardest journeys I have been on where team work was paramount. Team work was key. It was hard on everyone. Carry your weight and more if you can and keep all of your chatter positive. Negativity would have killed us.
- PT beatdown with 1) Burpee AMRAP in 5 minutes, 2) 50 Flutter Kicks IC/ %0 Big boy weird leg sit ups for time and 3) a timed suicide AYG. This was like the easiest part of the night IMO.
- Then we rucked up and headed out with all our gear again and luckily ditched the logs about 400 yards from our startex. Biggest relief of the night. Along the way people were reported as casualties and we had to carry them. This went on for a long time. Like hours and hours.
- We did some other stuff when we got back, heard some words from Dredd and finished with a buddy carry around the lake/pond and back to the parade field.
So I missed a ton of things but my take a ways are becoming clearer. The military form and drill portion was not for me. But it taught us to work as a team and not an individual. Lessons that served the White platoon well when shit got really stressful and really hard. The guy to your left and right is what keeps you going. Guys, I almost died during the elephant walk. Circumstances being what they were I was in a bad spot but I was not alone. I could have internalized the pain but I was vocal because I needed support. StarChild and others from my Squad kept me from failure. While I never broke down I realized that flexibility is a weakness of mine and something I will be focusing on in order to become more prepared for the future.
Since others are sharing their experience I will reiderate what I stated earlier. The event itself was great. As advertised it was tough. Really tough. But the real magic in the weekend was the men with whom I was lucky enough to share it with. Chris, Jesse, Michael, Jim, Sean and Justin I am honored to have had the privilege of sharing this with you. Our bond is real and our friendships ever growing.
Big thanks to Toledo PAX and Cadre Danny, Shredder and Mocha Mike. You guys are awesome… and scary. You guys are scary awesome.
If people are still reading this, here’s my take
- I had one mission, to have fun. Mission accomplished.
- A GORUCK Tough is hard, but I haven’t met an F3 guy who couldn’t endure what we did.
- I will never do a GORUCK event without friends there to help me remember my single mission. These other 6 HIMs kept my spirits up the entire way.
- Goose shit ruins your glove’s Velcro
- My biggest concern was sleep deprivation, which never occurred because we didn’t have time.
- Elephant March is miserable, but allowed me to nestle my thumb knuckle between Z’s nacho for 45ish minutes, so there’s a perk.
- Cadre will beat you down but are also very, very cool and approachable.
- I think I packed wisely, and my favorite luxury item was military energy gum (MEG). 100mgs of caffeine, baby!
- Guys fart a lot, but don’t laugh enough about it. I did. And probably tarnished the Louisville reputation.
- Taking the RV was clutch. My stomach hurts more from laughing for three days straight, not from the Tough.
- Satan’s cock v2.0 obliterated my shoulders
- I will 100% do it again.
- I genuinely loved hanging with these 6 guys, and because of of them, this past weekend was one of the best highlights of my life. I can’t thank Jim Herr enough for asking me to go months ago.
F3 allowed me to become good friends with these guys, but the preparation, the worry, the travel, and the actual event made our bond stronger than I could ever imagine.
Mad Cow AAR
Let me start by saying the best part of this event was the time spent with my F3 Louisville brothers. I can’tremember a time that I have enjoyed more with a group of guys.
My thoughts on the GrowRuck
It was tough! In my opinion it was way too much military centered. For me personally I don’t enjoy having to stay in a formation while trying to transport a million pounds of weight to different locations. I like the physical aspect but in my opinion it lacked way to much comradery. I guess I just don’t take myself very serious and that’s what I really like about our group and our own ruck events. I will not be signing up for more of these style events but would be very interested in the Scavenger and Navigator events. For me the true enjoyment of rucking or working out or things in general is cutting up and being a jackass. I would not say anything negative about the event or the organization. It was a very professionally run event and he Cadre were terrific. This style of event just doesn’t fit my personality. I am very glad that I participated and look forward to many different events with all the F3 Louisville HIMs.
Wham!’s GrowRuck 09 AAR
• The best times of the trip for me all occurred outside of the 14 hours of the event. All of us riding in one vehicle was key. T-Claps to Star Child for allowing that to happen.
• As stated by some of the others, I’m not sure the actual event itself would have been tolerable for me without having the other F3 Louisville guys with me. The 97 participants were randomly split into 3 platoons and so there was the very real chance that one of us would end up in a platoon by himself, but thankfully that didn’t happen. My platoon (Shout out to the Red Platoon!) included myself, Diablo, Methane and Mad Cow, which was huge for me. And for much of the event, Diablo and Methane were right next to me, including during the infamous elephant walk.
• My overall impression of the event is that it was extremely well organized and was run exactly the way it was supposed to be run. Looking back, it was cool how each of the 3 platoons did their own thing for the first few hours of the night and then we joined forces for the march through the streets of Toledo with the logs and other heavy things. All that said, although I’m very happy I did it, I’m not sure these types of events are for me. My frame is not built to carry that much weight on my back while also carrying other heavy things for that many hours, nor will it ever be built for that. I would do another light event, but not sure I will do a tough again. Never say never, but I may be a one and done.
• One thing I noticed that I didn’t expect was that it was tougher for me to just stand still with your ruck on than it was to be moving with it. There were even a few times when we were sitting with our rucks on and that was extremely tough on me.
• If you ever find yourself peeing outside of a cabin in the middle of the night and a skunk walks past you, play it cool while slowly and quietly sneaking back into the cabin.
• I didn’t bring a wind breaker with me but ended up buying one at Dick’s on the day of the event due to peer pressure and I’m very glad I did. It kept me relatively comfortable temperature wise when it got cold and windy during the night, but it was still easy to maneuver in. The type I bought was a Columbia waterproof breathable jacket. $60. My other key piece of equipment was my wool socks. I started the event with a thin pair of footies under a thick pair of wool socks. It was a little bulky but I never got a blister, which was what I worried about because I had blisters previously during much shorter rucks. My feet got wet when we crawled through a discharge pipe that emptied into a lake, but rather than change into the dry pair of wool socks that I had in my ruck, I tried to wait it out for a while in case we got in water again (we didn’t). Doing that was a mistake because the wet socks made my whole body cold and I actually started shivering at one point. In retrospect, I should have changed into dry socks as soon as I had the opportunity. If I ever do one of these again (probably won’t, see above), I may bring 2 extra pairs of socks so that I don’t hesitate to change them if they get wet.
• My Go Ruck Simple Pants did fine during the event, although I probably would have preferred Challenge Pants or something similar that had bigger pockets with zippers. I wore Salomon SpeedCross 3’s and they worked well. I had previously figured out that they fit better on me when the laces are a little loose and so that was helpful. Their tread came in handy when going up and down muddy hills with my hand underneath Diablo’s crotch.
• As for food, I had several energy bars and sandwich bags filled with beef jerky and trail mix. That ended up being way too much food and there weren’t enough breaks for me to eat all of that anyway. That said, it was still nice knowing that I had it with me. During the event, I ate 3 energy bars (2 RX bars and 1 Cliff Bar) and then a little bit of the jerky and trail mix. My stomach growled a few times in the middle of the night, but I never felt weak from hunger, which is what I was afraid of. I kept one energy bar in my pants pocket for easy access and then the rest of my food was in my ruck.
• One thing that eased some tension for me was watching the cadre’s facial reaction when someone made a mistake or something bad happened. It may sound weird but seeing his initial reaction before he actually acted on the situation made him seem more relatable (and human) to me.
• Body glide is the sh*t. One place I didn’t put it on before the event but did during the event was on my lower back near my waist. My shirt kept riding up and so the lower back area took a beating from my ruck, especially when doing burpees and other PT maneuvers. After a while, it felt like the ruck was rubbing my skin raw, but the body glide I had in my ruck saved the day.
• Listen closely to the cadre when he is giving instructions because he may ask you to repeat what he said. There were several times when he did this to someone else and I would not have been able to do it if he had asked me. I have since employed this technique on my 5-year daughter and also directed her to start calling me Cadre Wham!
• Doing 40 burpees with your ruck on after you have been going for 10+ hours is awful.
• The toughest part of the event for me was the last thing we did. Without going into too much detail, my platoon had an infraction from earlier in the night to pay for and so we each had to carry our own ruck and two other rucks (from the other platoons) around a big lake (maybe ½ mile or so) and take them all back to the starting point of the event. Well this was essentially impossible for me at this stage of the event. I tried several techniques before finally settling on having one ruck on my back, one on the front of me, and carrying the third ruck by the handle on top, but this did not work well, and I was only making it about 10-15 feet at a time before having to stop and rest. At some point, Diablo noticed this and waited for me and then hulked out by taking one of my rucks (so he was now carrying 4 rucks himself). He did this for most of the remaining distance before being relieved by CI I believe. If not for Diablo, I might still be walking around that lake. Also, t-claps for Mad Cow who also stayed back to help a few other guys who were struggling like me.
• My favorite parts of the event were: (1) A competition we did within our platoon between the 3 squads (made up of 10 guys each) where we each had to crawl under and then over several wooden benches with our rucks on. My 10-man squad also included Diablo, Methane and Mad Cow and we kicked the other squads’ ass. It was fun. F3 Louisville dominated. (2) Learning the maneuvers used in the army when approaching an enemy with your squad. This was fun and also allowed a little relief to my shoulders because we were on our stomachs on the ground for much of the time. (3) Near the end of the event, my platoon started marching toward the other 2 platoons who were waiting on us and our Cadre started yelling “When I say ‘Go’ you say ‘Ruck’” and we all followed his instruction and it got super loud and echoed through the woods. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it was a cool moment. (4) Seeing the night sky slowly start to lighten and hearing birds starting to chirp. The end was near.
• Last but not least, it’s better to sit down rather than stand while peeing in a moving RV.
• Orange GoRuck Rucker, properly weighted
• Water bladder with just under 3 liters of water
• Nalgene bottle with additional 20 oz of water
• Smaller Nalgene bottle, empty, in case I needed electrolyte tablet.
• Dry bag, with Patagonia rain jacket, two extra pairs of socks, Carhartt fleece skull cap, and an extra set of gloves
• Three Cliff bars
• Electrolyte tablets
• Ziploc bag of peanuts and a baby Snickers
• Hard case with ID and $20 and 3 extra AAA batteries
• Black Diamond headlamp
I have no problem with what I packed. Needed or used all of it, except the extra batteries, and only ate one Cliff bar. Yes, I ate a Snickers at one point. The extra Nalgene bottle was not used and probably unnecessary, but added no weight.
• Body Glide generously applied over, well, the body
• Reebok Performance Underwear
• MudGear F3 form-fitting shirt
• Nike Pro DriFit Half-Zip, tight over MudGear undershirt
• Nike Pro DriFit lightweight tights
• GoRuck Challenge Pants
• Nike tactical belt
• Thin pair of SmartWool socks underneath a thicker pair of SmartWool socks
• Salomon XA Pro 3d shoes
• 5.11 Tactical Hat with sweet IronHorse patch
I had no chaffing issues at all, so I suspect the Body Glide did its job. Either that, or, my body naturally glistens and keeps properly lubricated. I’ll let the reader decide.
Actually, everything I had on worked as it should have. I highly recommend having a tight layer underneath the ruck, and the MudGear shirts work very well. You just don’t want fabric slipping around on you. The Nike tights proved to be a good addition, as I was tempted not to wear them. Kept me a little warmer, weren’t in the way, and dried quickly.
A key piece of gear many may not think about is a good, easy to adjust belt. During a long ruck, pants get wet and dry, as do other fabrics. Ability to quickly adjust belt was quite comfortable through the event.
We went through water, so lower half was fully soaked at one point. Tights and pants dried perfectly, and shoes remained comfortable. Feet were cold, so at some point on a break, I changed socks, replacing the two pair I had on with a medium weight pair of SmartWools. Feet were still wet, but warmed up very quickly with the new socks.
Probably around 2:00 or 3:00 am I switched hat I was wearing for the fleece skull cap I packed for warmth. A little later, I pulled out the rain jacket for an additional warm layer. It was much needed. I’m glad I chose the rain jacket over a fleece shirt for extra layer. It was warm enough, and the material set well underneath the ruck.
Physically, I was prepared. But, it’s hard to say what other than putting the ruck on and getting accustomed to it is good preparation. In other words, and this may be obvious, but in my opinion the only way to prepare for a GoRuck Tough event is to ruck. The primary physical challenge of the event was carrying the ruck and the additional weights given to our team.
(Oh, the additional weights – they were ridiculous. I spent most of the night and morning partner carrying a 75 lb steel pole that had an 80 lb sandbag strapped on to it. When not doing that, I helped with a 1000 lb log. And, when not doing that, I was carrying a full 5 gallon water jug, or an equipment bag. The weight sucked. No other way to say it. Again, the only way to prepare is to ruck, and carry some additional weights while rucking.)
The pace was slower than I thought it would be, and the strength / cardio needed for the event was not too much to overcome. That’s not being arrogant at all – it was f’n hard and I felt like a rented mule afterwards.
The mental challenge of the event was hardest for me. If I had not had Wham next to me (or sometimes uncomfortably behind me) throughout the event, it would have been utterly miserable. He helped get me through, as did having Mad Cow and Methane in my “platoon.” These HIMs provided support throughout, and I hope I did to them, too.
Speaking of that, throughout the event, and the weekend generally, I was overly proud of my F3 Louisville brothers. Captain Insane-o, Zartan, Starchild, Wham, Mad Cow, and Methane were all known leaders throughout the event and the weekend. I never once worried that these HIMs weren’t carrying their weight or helping the teams move. Never once! I was honored to be there with them, and hope I did something close to what these HIMs did.
The only thing I wanted to add was my respect for the military and their families has grown exponentially. I had to pack for 3 days and leave my family to perform 1 very tough mission with very little possibility that I would get hurt. What these soldiers and their families go through and the thoughts that go through their head when they are deployed for 6,12,18 months is harder than any ruck, WO or CSAUP that I will ever do. Those thoughts are what got me through and those thoughts are what make me want to do more for the military. Thank you all.